Israel orders mass evacuation of northern Gaza
In October 2023, Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, following a surprise offensive by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages into Gaza. Israel ordered all residents in the northern Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, to evacuate southward within 24 hours, affecting more than 1.1 million people. The UN condemned the order as “impossible without devastating humanitarian consequences” and said it created “chaos”. Hamas instructed civilians not to evacuate, and there are reports that Hamas physically hindered Gazans from fleeing to the south. Israel also targeted Palestinians during the evacuation process and subjected them to attacks and bombardments in the southern Gaza Strip. The displacement resulting from the evacuation was part of a broader humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 4,300 people have been killed and 1.4 million have been displaced.
Al-Zahraa neighborhood flattened by Israeli airstrikes
One of the areas that was hit hard by the Israeli airstrikes was the al-Zahraa neighborhood in central Gaza, where more than two dozen blocks of flats were razed to the ground overnight. Residents told the BBC that they had not expected the bombing as the area had been relatively calm. They said they were told to evacuate on Thursday evening, but many did not have time to pack their belongings or find a safe place to go. Some said they ran through the streets, dodging bombs and bullets, while others stayed in their homes, hoping for a miracle. Ambulances could not reach the area, and people were trapped under the rubble of their homes. One woman said she lost her husband and two children in the bombing. Another man said he saw his neighbors die in front of his eyes. The bombing left thousands of people homeless and traumatized.
Al-Quds hospital ordered to evacuate by Israeli forces
In northern Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces ordered the evacuation of the Al-Quds hospital, which is home to more than 400 patients and 12,000 displaced civilians. The hospital is one of the few functioning medical facilities in Gaza, and has been providing life-saving treatment to the wounded and the sick. The Red Crescent said the evacuation order was a violation of international humanitarian law, and that it would endanger the lives of the patients and the staff. The hospital also faced shortages of fuel, electricity, water, and medical supplies, as Israel cut off all supplies to Gaza. The Red Crescent appealed to the international community to intervene and protect the hospital and its occupants.
Southern Gaza overcrowded and under siege
The people who managed to flee to the southern Gaza Strip did not find much relief, as the area was already overcrowded and under siege. According to the UN, more than half a million people sought shelter in 147 UN facilities, where they faced dire conditions of sanitation, hygiene, and security. Many others stayed with relatives or friends, or slept in the open. The UN said the humanitarian situation in Gaza was catastrophic, and that people were in urgent need of food, water, health care, and protection. Israel continued to bomb and shell the southern Gaza Strip, killing and injuring more civilians. Some of the targets included schools, mosques, markets, and residential buildings. The UN said Israel was violating the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution in its attacks, and that some of the incidents may amount to war crimes.
Gaza residents describe their ordeal and their hopes
The BBC spoke to some of the Gaza residents who were affected by the evacuation order and the Israeli invasion, and asked them to share their stories and their feelings. Here are some of their responses:
- “I was in my house with my wife and four children when the Israeli soldiers came and told us to leave. They gave us 10 minutes to pack our things and go. We didn’t know where to go or what to take. We just grabbed some clothes and documents and ran. We left everything behind. Our house, our furniture, our memories. We walked for hours, trying to find a safe place. We saw dead bodies on the road, and bombs falling from the sky. We were terrified. We finally reached a UN school, where they gave us a small space to sleep. It was very crowded and dirty. There was no water or electricity. We heard explosions all night. We don’t know if our house is still standing or if we will ever go back. We don’t know what the future holds for us. We just want peace and dignity.” – Ahmed, 42, from Beit Hanoun.
- “I was at the Al-Quds hospital, where I work as a nurse. We had many patients who were injured by the Israeli attacks. We tried to save as many lives as we could, but we didn’t have enough equipment or medicine. We also had many people who came to the hospital to seek shelter, because they had nowhere else to go. The hospital was full of people, and we tried to help them as much as we could. Then we received a call from the Israeli army, telling us to evacuate the hospital. They said they would bomb it if we didn’t leave. We were shocked and scared. How could they do that? How could they target a hospital? We had to move the patients and the staff to another location, but it was very difficult and dangerous. Some of the patients were in critical condition, and some of them died on the way. We felt helpless and angry. We felt betrayed by the world.” – Fatima, 28, from Jabalia.
- “I was in my apartment with my husband and two daughters when we heard the news that Israel was ordering us to evacuate. We didn’t believe it at first. We thought it was a joke or a mistake. We had lived in this neighborhood for 15 years, and we had never seen any trouble. We had good relations with our neighbors, who were from different backgrounds and religions. We had a nice life here. We didn’t want to leave. But then we heard the bombs and the sirens, and we realized it was serious. We decided to stay in our home, and hope for the best. We thought it would be safer than going out. We were wrong. The next night, the Israeli planes came and bombed our building. We heard a loud noise, and then everything went dark. We were buried under the rubble. We couldn’t breathe or move. We screamed for help, but no one came. We prayed to God to save us. We thought we were going to die. After what seemed like an eternity, we heard some voices and saw some light. It was the rescue workers, who came to dig us out. They took us to the hospital, where they treated our wounds. We were lucky to survive, but we lost everything. Our home, our belongings, our dreams. We don’t know where to go now. We don’t know if we will ever find happiness again.” – Rania, 35, from Al-Zahraa.
- “I was in my school with my friends when we heard the announcement that Israel was telling us to evacuate. We were scared and confused. We didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know why they wanted us to leave. We didn’t know where to go. We asked our teachers, but they didn’t have any answers. They just told us to follow them and stay calm. We left the school and joined the crowd of people who were walking south. It was a long and hard journey. We saw many horrible things on the way. We saw houses burning, cars exploding, people bleeding. We heard gunshots, rockets, and screams. We felt hungry, thirsty, and tired. We wanted to go back to our homes, to our families, to our normal lives. But we couldn’t. We had to keep walking, hoping to find a safe place. We finally reached a UN school, where they gave us some food and water. They also gave us some toys and books, to make us feel better. They told us that everything would be OK, that the war would end soon, and that we would go back to our homes. But we don’t believe them. We don’t think anything will be OK. We don’t think the war will end. We don’t think we will go back to our homes. We think we will die here.” – Omar, 10, from Gaza City.